Finger Lakes Reads

Happily, it’s time again to spotlight a few of the literary efforts of Finger Lakes resident authors. These titles are worthy of seeking out for holiday gift giving or for your own library. They represent a range of creative spirit flourishing in the Finger Lakes area and will delight those who have lived or vacationed in the region. Special thanks to the staff at the Pioneer Library System and the Monroe County Library System who assisted in identifying some of the newer books by local authors. The following titles should be readily available at Barnes & Noble, Borders, and many small booksellers, or online at Addresses and phone numbers of local historical societies are included when they apply.

The Average Human
by Ellen Toby-Potter, 2003, Hardback,  260 pages, $24.00.
Published by Mac Adam/Cage Publishing, Denver
(304) 753-7565

In Loomis, the fictional rural upstate setting of The Average Human, the inhabitants include the Mayborns, a family with the distinction of bearing generations of troubled and wayward offspring. The family is suspected of having engaged in incest and infanticide. As if a sign of their misdeeds, the daughters in the family have black, twisted finger nails, making their identity difficult to hide.

The author’s sometimes bizarre story of the Mayborn family centers around its connection with a former cult-like commune, Mercy Hill that once existed outside Loomis. The cult’s founder is accidentally killed in a fire set by a young June Mayborn, whose most pronounced characteristic is her heightened sense of smell. When former commune members return for the funeral, the scene is set for more disturbing encounters with the flawed Mayborns.

Writer Toby-Potter, who lives in Spencer (Tioga County), effectively connects the Mayborns’ lives with those of characters such as the church lady, Linnet, who aims to bring June into the faith, only to have her become a religious zealot. This debut novel is edgy, engaging, and thought-provoking.

200 Waterfalls in Central & Western New York, A Finders’ Guide
by Rich and Sue Freeman, 2002, Paperback, 232 pages, $18.95.
Published by Footprint Press, Fishers
(585) 421-9383

Here is the perfect companion book to accompany the weekend hiker at any level of interest or skill. Rich and Sue Freeman’s 200 Waterfalls in Central & Western New York covers over 100 waterfalls in 26 counties. Like their other books featuring outdoor pursuits, this title is well-organized.

Each waterfall location pairs a full-page map with a summary page of information. The authors provide details on location, name of waterway, directions from a major town or road, parking, if available, the best viewing location, waterfall height, best season to visit, mode of transportation required to view the falls, estimated hiking time, trail length and difficulty, trail surface, and markings used to designate trails. Additional information such as admission fees, whether dogs are permitted, and contact information is provided.

A short introduction traces the glacial formation of New York State’s waterfalls and offers some common sense cautions about the varied terrain which hikers will encounter, from steep cliffs to fast-moving water and wet, slippery rocks. A helpful index organizes locations from “roadside waterfalls” to “waterfalls for ice climbers.” The authors further rank waterfalls by difficulty: one boot being very easy to four boots, strenuous.

An Everyday Savior
by Kathryn Larrabee, 2002, Fiction,  Hardback, 348 pages, $24.95.
Published by Four Walls Eight Windows, New York
(212) 206-8965

An Everyday Savior weaves a tale of a good-natured average guy, Harley Cookson, and his increasingly complicated life in a small town which bears a resemblance to Penn Yan, where first-time novelist Kate Larrabee has lived for six years. Harley and his new Russian emigrant wife, Sonia must adjust to caring for his elderly mother in their new home. The domestic tension is heightened when Harley encounters his high school girlfriend who appears to be in an abusive marriage. When the woman’s husband is killed in a fishing accident on the lake,  Harley faces the uncertainty as to whether his old friend was involved with her husband’s death.

The author’s suspenseful tale holds the reader’s interest throughout. The novel’s characters are well-drawn and their lives feel authentic. Larrabee skillfully peels back the layers of Harley’s life. Past romances and memories of his parents and their marriage are interwoven with Harley’s present dilemma of wanting to help his friend while keeping his wife’s trust.

Small Wonder Squaw Island, Canandaigua Lake
Dr. Preston E. Pierce, 2003, Paperback,  36 pages, $15.00.
Published by the Ontario County Historical Society, Canandaigua
(585) 394-4975

Squaw Island, with its familiar irregular outline of trees at the northern end of Canandaigua Lake, remains an enduring natural attraction for boaters, artists, and environmentalists, among others. With numerous black-and- white and color illustrations, Small Wonder Squaw Island, Canandaigua Lake aims to separate fact from folklore while highlighting the island’s unique scientific value.

Author Dr. Preston Pierce acknowledges the island is a reminder of our Native American heritage. However, he disputes the often-repeated story of how the island got its name as a refuge for Indian women during the Sullivan Expedition of 1799, basing his conclusion on research into contemporary military accounts.

The author, a former social studies teacher and current Ontario County historian, turns his attention to the unique natural phenomenon, “oncolites,” popularly called “water biscuits” found around the shores of Squaw Island. These lime-carbonate formations, which soften and crumble when dried, occur at less than a half dozen places in the world. A study completed in 1900 by a paleontologist and director of the New York State Museum on these formations is reprinted here.

The book also discusses early lakeshore beautification efforts which included Squaw Island, the ongoing efforts to deal with the erosion of the island by local citizens, and most recently, the role of the Squaw Island Preservation Society in saving this small but highly scenic natural attraction.

Cornell Then & Now
by Ronald E. Ostman and Harry Littell, 2003, Paperback, 160 pages, $29.95.
Published by McBooks Press, Ithaca
(607) 272-2114

Cornell Then & Now will be a source of pleasure for anyone who has attended or been connected with Cornell University. The volume offers 200 high-quality photographs from the university’s past with identical scenes from the present day. Especially appealing features include a 42-inch aerial panoramic centerfold and sweeping vistas of Cornell’s 1902 and 2001 landscape. The book also includes some of the natural wonders of the Ithaca area. The addition of an index and campus and area maps make the book easy to use.

Harry Littell, Cornell graduate and photographer of Ithaca Then & Now (reviewed in Life in the Finger Lakes, Winter 2002) has collaborated with Dr. Ronald Ostman, professor and chair of the Department of Communication at Cornell, to trace the evolution of the campus. Sometimes the changes are dramatic. Today the modern Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, whose design by I.M. Pei has been highly praised, contrasts with the photo of Morse Hall. Named for inventor Samuel F. B. Morse, this late 19th century building once stood in the same location on campus. A casualty of an early 20th century fire, Morse Hall was eventually torn down in 1954. The Johnson Museum opened in 1973 and, according to the book, offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the campus on its fifth floor.

Other Cornell locations remain unchanged. Uris Library, for example, with its cathedral-style floor plan is still a haven of booklovers. The authors note that Cornell was the first university library in the nation to encourage undergraduates to check out books.

More books of historic photos

Images of America: Geneva
by Charles Bauder, Heather Hawkins, John Marks, and others, 2003,  Paperback, 128 pages, $19.99.
Published by Arcadia Publishing for Geneva Historical Society, Geneva
(315) 789-5151

A Gathering of Memories: Images and Recollections of Wayne County, New York
by Andrea T. Evangelist, 2003  Paperback, 245 pages, $25.00.
Printed at Erie Park Press, Clyde, for Wayne County Historical Society, Lyons
(315) 946-3943

These two titles are grouped together because of their similar format: numerous historic photographs of local subjects accompanied by informative captions and text. Both provide hours of enjoyment for those familiar with the locations and for newcomers eager to learn more about the area.

Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series previously published views from many communities around New York State, but this is their first focusing on Geneva. Drawn primarily from the collection of the Geneva Historical Society, the images mingle the familiar with some rarely seen views of the city at the head of Seneca Lake. Organized thematically, there are over 200 vintage images of industrial and commercial pursuits, transportation, local schools, churches, famous Genevans, and the lake, among others.  Architectural views range from familiar landmarks like the Smith Opera House, still a center for performing arts, to those that have disappeared, like the Temple Theater formerly located on Exchange Street.

A Gathering of Memories: Images and Recollections of Wayne County, New York is organized by communities from Arcadia to Wolcott and includes a helpful index. Additional chapters cover people, farming, the canal, snow, disasters such as wrecks, fires and floods, as well as culture in the form of music and theater. What is special about this county pictorial history, written by the Wayne County Historical Society’s Executive Director, Andrea Evangelist, is the addition of personal recollections by county residents. Called “memories,” these accounts lend fresh interpretation to many of the over 500 images. What may be unique in this pictorial history is the inclusion of a few individuals who broke the law, such as train robber Oliver Curtis Perry who stole a steam locomotive in Lyons to elude capture, only to be pursued by local residents on an express train.

Here are a few additional titles you may want to peruse:

The Iroquois Confederacy:  Legends and Stories
by Emerson Klees, 2003.
(Overview of migration of Native Americans to Northeast and history of the six nations.)
Friends of the Finger Lakes Publishing

Wineries of the Finger Lakes Region
by Emerson Klees (2000 edition reviewed in Life in the Finger Lakes, Winter 2003.)
revised edition, 2003
Friends of the Finger Lakes Publishing

Wayne County Troops in the Civil War: Letters from the Front
by R.L. Murray, 2003
(Letters from local Civil War soldiers published in Wayne County newspapers.)
(315) 594-2019

Children, Old Women and Shepherds
by Donald E. Melville, 2002
(Collection of stories by humorist and religious-fiction writer.)
America House Publishers.

Scenes of Monroe and Ontario Counties Past & Present Featuring Canandaigua Lake and Squaw Island
by Anne Peacock-Jacobs, 2003.
(Catalogue from 2003 exhibit at Mill Gallery & Art Center, Honeoye Falls.)
(585) 624-7740

by Laurel C. Wemett
Laurel C. Wemett is a correspondent for the Messenger-Post Newspapers in Canandaigua. She owns a gift shop named Cat’s in the Kitchen and lives in Canandaigua.

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